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The Benefits of Asking Great Questions Part 1

We have all heard the saying, “People don’t remember what you did, but they do remember how you made them feel!” This is especially true with regard to your dental patients.

The dental team spends so much time and effort ensuring excellent clinical outcomes. Yet,  when a patient says, “I love my dentist,” it is not a response based on their appreciation of superb clinical techniques.  Rather, it is an emotional response to the way the dentist and their team made that patient feel about themselves. While it is imperative for you to provide the very best quality of work you are capable of, the truth as to what your patients will think of you lies more in the realm of personal connection and in the science of likeability.

No matter which of numerous studies on likeability you look at, asking good questions and being a good listener are always on the list. If you wish to be liked by your patients and want those same patients to value your dentistry and accept your treatment recommendations, simply listen to what science is telling us.  Neuroscience tells us it would be wise to ask insightful questions of our patients instead of telling them what they need.


It all starts with neuroplasticity. The adult brain isn’t hardwired as previously thought. People of all ages can literally change their brains and change the way they think. Neuroplasticity means our brains can literally change in a way that encourages creative thinking and knowledge. Every time we think creatively and contemplate our own solutions to challenges, we form new neural connections. Questions act as a catalyst that can force the brain to contemplate, which strengthens neural connections and forms new neural pathways through a process called synaptogenesis. When neurons strengthen their synaptic connections, it becomes that much easier for that pathway to fire in the future. This is why it gets easier and easier to do something and why a repeated behavior can become a habit. It also explains why it becomes easier and easier to “think” a certain way.

Questions are powerful. Being asked a question immediately affects our brain processes.   Psychological studies have shown it also shapes our future behavior. Asking an open-ended question triggers a mental reflex known as “instinctive elaboration.” Questions that require thinking to form an answer literally hijack the brain’s thought process. Research has told us the brain is poor at multi-tasking and can only think about one thing at a time. Why is this important for you to know?

When you ask good open-ended questions of your patients, you hijack their brains and temporarily mask their underlying anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Masking these underlying emotions allows for clear thinking.  Behavioral scientists have found that just asking people about their future decisions significantly influences those decisions, something called the “mere measurement effect.”  Simply asking a person about a future action increases the likelihood of that action. New car purchases increased by 35% in one study. Voting in upcoming elections increased by 25% in another. Donating blood increased 8.5% among others. Simply asking your patients to contemplate what they want for their dental care, if nothing else, increases the likelihood they will follow through on that care.


Asking a question that causes the brain to think results in a release of serotonin, which allows relaxation to happen. As serotonin is released, a rush of insight occurs as the brain relaxes, reflects, and discovers solutions to the problem.  This rush of energy or insight becomes a source of motivation for the patient to act.   When a patient has been guided (through great questions) to consider how they wish to overcome a challenge and what solution they wish to choose, they are much more likely to move forward with clarity and commitment.

Am I Safe?

Five times per second, at an unconscious level, your brain is scanning your surroundings and determining if you are safe or not.  When safety is perceived, the brain can function at a high level.  The frontal cortex can be accessed, which is where reasoning and logic take place. When your unconscious brain perceives a lack of safety, all decisions become black/white as you are only able to access the more primitive areas of the rear brain. This is called the “Amygdala Hijack.” The brain goes into a survival mode and results in a survival mindset. You assume that people are against you. Pessimism. Your brain is not able to access the frontal cortex and lacks logic and the ability to reason.

How To Keep Your Patients Feeling Safe? Think TERA


The brain is asking “Are you with me or against me?”


The brain is trying to predict the future. If it knows what happens next, it feels safe.


Situations feel less safe when one is made to feel inferior.


People feel safe when they are allowed to make their own decision.

Your job as the dentist is to make your patients feel safe so they are able to make rational and sound decisions.  With a sincere level of curiosity and asking the right questions, you will reach a level of connection with patients that tells them you are on their side and there to help.   Further, by explaining all the steps ahead and what to expect at each step, you can ease the underlying fear of the unknown. Lastly, you will educate them on their condition and your recommendations, but also inform them that ultimately they will have choices and it is up to them as to what level of care they choose.

This is part 1 of a 2 part blog series. Next week’s blog, part 2, will supply you with a list of questions you can easily implement in your day-to-day practice.


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